November Top 10 Players in Green Energy

by Terrence Murray - December 16, 2010

1: Dan Reicher, Stanford University

Dan Reicher: Leaving Google for Stanford

What’s a top-notch energy thinker to do in a time when energy is a second-tier issue in Washington? Former Assistant Energy Secretary Dan Reicher is casting about for the answer to that question. In November, Reicher left his post as Google’s director of climate change and green energy initiatives to lead Stanford University’s energy and policy finance center.

At Google, Reicher redefined how corporate America can pursue sustainable energy policy by investing the company in bold startups and straightforward wind developments. In recent months, though, Reicher had been focused on policy and thinking about how legislation and government dollars can leverage private investment in renewables. In that context, the move to Stanford’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance made sense because Reicher will be able to devote himself full time to those questions. Unfortunately, those policies will likely stay in the academy until Congress is ready to take energy policy seriously. That could take a while.

2: Congressional Republicans

Incoming House Republicans

House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner is all for promoting renewable energy and emissions reduction  just as long as the government Boehner also supports funding for renewable energy but he wants to put all of the stimulus money devoted to funding renewables into deficit reduction. If it seems confusing and contradictory, that’s because it is. Boehner and the Republican caucus do not have a plan to promote renewable energy, they have a plan to promote oil and gas drilling with a bit of alternative energy language sprinkled in because that’s what pollsters tell them the public likes to hear. But, hey, they won the midterms. They’ve got the keys to the car. We will get the energy policy we deserve.

3: Peter Loescher, Siemens CEO, a green power bull

Spain is cutting its generous solar subsidy package, and so are Germany and France. In the U.S., the wind sector is ailing, as well, as developers are having a hard time securing funding. On top of that (also in the U.S.) the future of some key subsidies remains uncertain. Despite it all, Siemens CEO, Peter Loescher, remains bullish, telling Bloomberg last month that he expected his company to grow sales of solar equipment, wind turbines and other green products to $40 billion ($55 billion) over the next four years. Just this year, Siemens’s Loescher expects to generate $28 billion from its green business. When it comes to renewable energy, Loescher is obviously taking the long view (and counting on China to pick up the slack for Europe and the U.S….)

4: Cape Wind, Secures precious long-term power purchase agreement

They did it! It took the better part of a decade, but last month the regulatory steeplechase for the Cape Wind offshore wind project finally ended, when the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) approved its 15-year power purchase agreement with National Grid. The DPU’s approval in effect assures that the country’s first offshore wind project starts earning some real dollars and more importantly, will ensure Cape Wind management starts negotiating with banks to secure the financing that will confirm that the project finally gets built!

5: CalPERS, a long-term green investor

$500 million – that’s the amount the California Public Employees Retirement System says it will invest an in-house fund that will track a leading climate change investment index. The investment by one of the world’s largest pension funds is an obvious vote of confidence on the long term prospects of the cleantech and renewable energy sector. CalPERS Board President, Rob Feckner, said the fund, which will track HSBC’s Global Climate Change Benchmark Index, “will allow us on a large scale to support and become more directly involved in positive change….” The move anchors CalPERS (which has $216 billion under management) as a long term green investor, which is exactly what the sector lacks and needs.

6: Southern California Edison, a game-changer

Last month, Southern California Edison (SCE) inked a series of long term power purchase contracts to buy as much as 240 megawatts of solar power. The SCE’s shopping spree significantly boosts the Golden State’s solar capacity and underscores the power that utilities have in deploying renewable energy power projects. For developers, PPAs with large state utilities like SCE are a real lifeline for building projects.

7: Solyndra

It’s a safe bet that Energy Department officials who green lit a $535 million loan guarantee for Solyndra’s new Fremont, Calif.,factory, called Fab 2, didn’t think that the solar panel maker would close its old facility and lay off 190 permanent and temporary workers. But that’s what Solyndra’s Chief Executive Brian Harrison did early in November, while touting the efficiency of Fab 2 . A lot about Solyndra has surprised the cleantech community in the past year and not in a positive sense. The company has an innovative thin film technology but has been unable to compete on price with Chinese manufacturers Yingli and Suntech, who make low-priced, conventional silicon photovoltaic technologies. As a consequence, Solyndra has scaled back the planned manufacturing capacity from 610 megawatts by 2013 to 300 MW.

“If you build a better solar panel, then the world will beat a path to your door,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said at the groundbreaking for Fab 2 in 2009. That remains to be seen.

8: RES-Americas, finance team exits

Over the past year, Colorado developer Renewable Energy Systems – Americas has been executing an ambitious sell-off of some key projects. Company officials have told G.E.R. that they expect these asset sales to rise north of $2 billion. Not bad! The problem, though, for the Colorado developer is that the team that’s been overseeing these sales left en masse, including a Chief Financial officer Richard Ashby few weeks ago. Prior to that, colleagues Chris Calavitta and Daniel East, both directors, also jumped ship. At issue, we hear, was disappointment over year-end bonuses. RES Americas says the departures “brought healthy change within the management team and fresh perspectives” and they won’t impact its ambitious divestiture program. The company adds that it’s focused on assembling a new team. We will keep you posted!

9: GE, Shepherds Flat

Renewable energy developers, a little more than two years after the global financial implosion, are still having a hard time raising debt-financing. Less so if you’re GE. The Connecticut industrial group’s huge balance sheet can open lots of vaults! And it has. GE and partner Caithness Energy are close to securing a whopping $1.38 billion debt financing supporting construction of the landmark 845 megawatts Shepherds Flat wind power plant in Oregon. West LB Securities and Citi are arranging the long-term debt financing.

10: Solar Millennium, Amargosa project

Over the past months, state and federal regulators have been working overtime to approve solar, wind power projects before key stimulus-funded subsidies (like the 1603 grants) sunset at the end of the year. Some of the pioneering projects approved over the past months could fundamentally transform how renewable power is produced. Amargosa is one such project. Greenlighted last month by federal regulators Solar Millennium’s 500 megawatt Amargosa solar power plant is an ambitious and impressive project that, fully developed, could generate as much electricity as a conventional natural gas-fired power plant. But before that happens, a true test for Solar Millennium will be whether it is able to secure the financing that will help make Amargosa a reality.

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